If you keep in touch with the hotpot landscape in Singapore these recent years, you may have noticed that there are quite a number of new Chinese hotpot restaurants sprouted out. Many of these restaurants claimed to be serving the authentic taste from Chengdu or Chongqing (as hot pot originally comes from these two cities). As part of our food discovery trail, we recently visited the Spicy House Restaurant (辣府火锅) in Clark Quay to find out how ‘authentic’ it claims it is.
About Spicy House Restaurant (辣府火锅)
The restaurant outlet in Clark Quay is the first overseas outlet of the Spicy House Restaurant Group in China. Originated from Shanghai in 2009, the Spicy House Restaurant has portrayed itself as the authentic Chengdu-style hotpot targeting the younger millennial generation. Well, it did successfully accumulate a great fame in China with a lot of celebrities patronizing and endorsing it. Opened in Singapore in the year 2016, the Spicy House Restaurant Group kickstarted its first venture into the Southeast Asia market, as a baby step for global expansion.
We made a reservation three days in advance to avoid the dining crowd as we intend to visit on a Friday night. Okay, it was not that crowded as we expected (as compared to Hai Di Lao where you may have to wait for 1.5 hours for a table). To be honest, I found my way by following the hot pot smell. When you are nearing the restaurant, you will notice that the hotpot smell was so strong and attractive that no one can resist the temptation from 10 meters away.
Like all other restaurants by the Singapore River, the restaurant looks high-end, atmospheric and attractive. With colorful lanterns hanging from the ceiling and cool blue lights, the environment is like a mix of Chinese and Modern style. I guess this is why the restaurant is popular among young millennials.
In the restaurant there is a TV which repeatedly showed China celebrities’ wishes to the newly opened restaurant, but I am not sure if it’s really appealing to Singaporeans. Maybe China celebrities aren’t that popular among Singaporeans?
The sauces are self-service and there are a lot of different sauces you can choose from. The most authentic “Chongqing” way is to dip your food just in sesame oil which is effective in cooling down the spicy taste. The restaurant also has its own unique sauce but in my opinion, not as good as the one in Hai Di Lao.
We ordered a 9 blocks hotpot and if you don’t know, this is the most traditional way how we Chongqing people eat hotpot. The blocks are not used to divide the soup, but for the ease of classifying different dishes. With so many chilies floating on the soup, I am so happy to meet this “long-time-no-see” authentic hot pot!
Here we go, let’s dig in! The dishes arrived quite fast and look quite appealing. I am very impressed with the spicy beef. Although not as spicy as I expected, the meat is extremely tender and soft.
For me, crispy sausages and tripes are the must-order items! You can’t omit these if you eat spicy hotpot, especially in Chongqing.
This is my favorite and the most impressive dish – Pork ball with caraway. In this dish, the pork balls are put in an individual paper wrapper just like small cupcakes. The pork is fresh and tastes very chewy.
There are a lot of vegetable and desserts available on the menu too. After a spicy feast, we usually eat something sweet to soothe our tongue from the spiciness. Fried rice cake with brown sugar is a good choice! I will recommend ordering this. In addition, we also ordered homemade plum juice which is refillable.
In a nutshell, the whole dining experience in Spicy House is quite good and reminds me of the hot pot restaurant in my hometown (don’t forget, I am from Chongqing!). However on the downside, after one hour of boiling, the soup base actually turned a bit bitter in taste. As time went by, the bitter taste became stronger. This was normally due to the spices used in the soup and is a common problem in most hot pot restaurants in Singapore. How a restaurant can remove the bitterness is actually what makes a good hot pot restaurant stands out. To be honest, Hai Di Lao does not have this problem and most hot pot restaurants in my hometown do not have this problem either.
We finished in around 2 hours and the whole meal costs around 170 SGD (for 3 pax) in total after discount (Customer can get a discount if you post their photos on social media). Yes, after averaging out, I think dining here is a bit more expensive than Hai Di Lao.
Getting to Spicy House Restaurant
Operating hour: 11:00-00:00
Address: 30 Merchant Road Riverside Point #01-07 058282
I am a bit hesitant when giving the score for quality of food. I was very impressed with the dishes themselves, fresh and tasty. What let me down was the soup base! The soup base is the “soul” of any hot pot and it is not only about spicy or how good it smells initially but about how diners can enjoy a consistent spicy feast so that they will have a feeling of ‘never enough’. A real authentic hot pot restaurant definitely knows the way to solve the problem of the soup base getting bitter. Besides, no restaurant will be successful with just the endorsement from celebrities to create hype. Just my 2 cents, I think if the restaurant group can focus more on the improving the soup instead of creating hype with media attention, I guess it will be better for the business in the long round.